A walk down memory lane with Namita Gokhale, founder-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival and author of more than 10 books.
My student days
I went to school in Nainital, and my early days in Ramnee convent are still a deep part of my life. I am in contact with old school friends from there and one of them – Neena Buck – turned up at the Jaipur festival last year. We caught up after 40 years! It was truly incredible! I grew up between Delhi and Nainital, while continuing my education in Mater Dei Convent in Delhi. I loved art, and painting, and was a disaster at mathematics. I used to write for the school magazine, and worked very hard on essays and wrote some pathetic poetry...
I was studying English literature at Jesus and Mary College in Delhi. I was puzzled by how alien the course was to the living realities around me - Dickens and Oliver Twist and Chaucer and no Indian writers at all. There was an optional paper on Indian literature in translation which I wanted to opt for. No one else was doing the course so I studied for it on my own. But then, for that reason, I fell short of attendance, and the college principal, a nun called Sister Aquinas, didn’t stand by me. It all got very complicated, and, to cut a long story short, I wrote the examination but never received my degree.
Being a writer
Being a competent writer requires focus and determination, though it’s easier now in the age of the internet with research tools and word processing. I thumped my first novel out on a manual typewriter. Those were the days! While writing, it’s important to find the right voice, and to be clear who you are writing for, even if it’s only for yourself. Self-expression is only a small part of the process. Good writing demands both creativity and discipline.
Learning to write
To read is to access new worlds and realities. Inspirational teachers have a lot to do with inculcating the reading habit. Reading is as much of a skill as writing, and reading a lot teaches us both style and content. But originality and spontaneity cannot be taught or emulated – they come from inspiration and a true gift and talent.
Every year, the young audiences at Jaipur go back with new enthusiasm, for reading, writing, and the world of ideas. It’s wonderful to be associated with a literature festival that has had a deep and powerful impact.
As told to Rahat Bano